Playing a team sport is the beginning for many aspiring leaders.

For me, I learned how to handle failure in front of a crowd and my team by playing soccer. I learned how to play as a part of a team, how to handle disappointment  and how to develop future contributors.

“Shake it off. Leave it ALL on the field.”

Coach Barber told me after I accidentally tipped the ball into our soccer goal. My job was to kick the ball ANYWHERE else. My mistake cost us the game. I was upset and it showed. My team patted me on the back as i walked off the field side by side with my coach.

Before we parted, he said, “There is more to life than soccer. Soccer teaches us about a person’s character and heart. You have shown me and your team you have plenty of both. We have another game in an hour. Be ready — you will be starting for us again.”

Lesson #1: There is a time for discipline and a time for building confidence.

He could have crushed my spirit. For players making mistake in a  game, he normally had them sit on the bench and think about what they did wrong. He could have not started me in the next game. He chose to uplift my confidence. He showed he still had faith in my abilities. He knew it was a mistake that I would not soon forget.

In the heat of the moment, he knew it was not the time nor the place for a lecture. It was important that I kept my focus and get ready for a new set of challenges. The next team was better than the one we lost to. 

It was a lesson I never forgot and one I took with me into professional life. It has had a lasting impact on my life — I lost the soccer game 32 years ago.

Lesson #2: Invest the time and resources to develop every player.

Coach did his best to make sure every player played every game. It may have only been for less than a minute. He would substitute inexperienced players  when we either ahead by a comfortable margin or we were getting our butts kicked. “Nothing prepares you for the stress and pressure of a game than playing in one.”

He could make us run our hearts out in practice – we were in excellent shape. He could come down hard on the more experienced players who did not share the ball, follow his directions or support their team mates. He knew we had to master our emotions and have laser-like focus. The only way we could do this is in a game.

Coach taught me a lot about bouncing back from disappointment as well as the wisdom of developing every team member.

He expected us to give it our all. Nothing else was acceptable. When we messed up, he made a statement or two about the problem and then focused on the solution. He forgot the past and expected us to do the same. We gave it our all and that was all he wanted. He believed in us, period. He focused on building us as people first and soccer players second.

As a leader, it is up to you to show your team how to handle disappointment.

When things go wrong, do you focus on the mistake and never forget it? Do you point out the problem and focus on the solution? Everyone has the ability to become a champion. Give them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and bounce back. You need a team of champions to become you are truly capable of.

What are you doing to develop your team? Are you living in the past instead of preparing for the future?

No one knows what tomorrow will bring. There will never be a “good” time to train your team. You must commit to it. Devote the time and resources to develop your team. Encourage senior and more experienced team members to mentor and train new hires. You need a team of people who help and communicate openly.

All stars are great but it takes a team to win. Don’t let one or two people dominate your team!

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